Skip to main content

Doing digital democracy

The people of the UK have just voted in a new government, and in local authorities across the country, thousands of councillors have been elected.

For the past few weeks I've been involved in a small way, in the electoral process and over Thursday  and Friday I worked 27 hours out of 32. Some of my colleagues continue today, for the count of the parish elections.

Prior to the election, working with Democracy Club I helped them produce their polling station finder. When I say I helped them, we gave them some data, they put in the long hours of creating and refining the finder, and I did a bit of bug testing.

I wrote a lot more about why the polling station finder is a good thing here.

The polls opened at 7am on 7 May and we were able to offer voters not only the location of polling stations in our district, but neighbouring Reading Borough too. This is a model that I've talked about for a while. Civic coders, or perhaps even a GDS Local producing common functionality that can be embedded in council sites, spanning borders so offering a better service. Developing it once rather than hundreds of times, so it's a lot better value for the taxpayer.

The main barrier to nationwide coverage was some councils' unwillingness to release data in response to Democracy Club's FOI request.

When the polls closed at 10pm the process of verification and counting started. We'd developed something to allow people both in the room on large screens and out in internet land to keep up with the various stages of the count.

Using a simple spreadsheet as a database powering an application, we were able to tell people on which counting table each ballot box was, and whether it was being verified or counted.

For the Parliamentary count there was just one result which was announced at 5.30am and after a few hours sleep, everyone was back at 10am to start on counting votes for district councillors on the unitary council.

For this we'd developed something additional. Based on the Modern.Gov API we were able to show the overall results as they happened, updated seconds after the Returning Officer had finished announcing it on stage.

We've put the election results code on GitHub, free for anyone to use. Again, this could be a model for a GDS Local, producing common functionality that many councils can use. I'd love to see someone else use this for their council elections next year, and I'd be happy to help them set it up.

As well as being available on the big screens we put all of this online, which means those not able to attend the count were as up to date as those in the room. We tweeted each district result too, linking back to the full results.

There's two encouraging things about this for me:
It was the Returning Officer that asked for the election count and results dashboard. It's great that the person in charge of the electoral process got how digital communications can be used to keep people informed.

It proved that the creation of shareable digital products for the dissemination of democratic information, both by civic coders and councils, is possible.
With no General Election for five years, perhaps the focus of coders might turn to local governments, some of whom have elections most years. I really hope the case, and watch this space for an event to help promote this, later in the year.

One final thing. We thought we were the only count with a glitterball but it turns out Oldham went one better and had a full on disco, as pictured below. I've made notes for next time.


Popular posts from this blog

Digital best practice checklist

This week I finished the draft of a digital best practice check-list. It's not digital strategy, in fact I'm increasingly thinking organisations don't need a digital strategy, they need a delivery strategy. My draft has check-list of seven questions and recommendations, with one overall recommendation regarding best practice for delivering digital. Ideally it would be incorporated into a wider service and information delivery strategy. Below I've omitted the bulk of the content, the reasoning behind arriving at the recommendation from the question because it's still in draft, but here are the seven questions and eight recommendations: 1. Is the council properly promoting its digital services and content, to reduce avoidable contact? Recommendation: Establish a “digital first” ethos to the promotion of services and better targeting what, when and where they're promoted. 2. Are the digital services the council offers, especially where the design and

Pipeline Alpha

In September 2014, officers from 25 councils met in Guildford to discuss a platform to enable collaboration across Local Government. A "Kickstarter for local government" is the missing part to Makers Project Teams , a concept to enable collaborative working across different organisations put forward by LGMakers the design and development strand of LocalGov Digital . Based on the user needs captured at the event, LGMakers created collaboration platform Pipeline and by October people from over 50 councils had signed up . Pipeline is an Alpha, a prototype set up to evaluate how a Kickstarter for councils might work. It is a working site though, and is being used as the platform it is eventually intended to be, at present without some of finer features a live offer might have. So what have I've learnt in the eight months since we launched Pipeline? There's a strong desire to collaborate  LocalGov Digital isn't a funded programme. I wrote about how much it

Carl's Conundrum of Internal Influence

I'm writing this partly as a reply to an excellent piece that Carl Haggerty published about the disconnect between internal and external influence and partly due to various conversations over the past month about how to make using tools like collaboration platform  Pipeline common practice. This isn't really about Carl though, or Devon County Council, or any other council specifically, it's more a comment on the influence of digital teams in local governments, or lack of, and how to resolve this. So here's the question that prompted this piece. How can someone who's been recognised nationally for their work, first by winning the Guardian's Leadership Excellent Award and who has more recently been placed in the top 100 of the Local Government Chronicle's most influential people in local government , "sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally". First, let's consider whether is this a problem to

Superfast highways

You may have seen this slide I put together to help explain digital transformation This week we launched a new beta service to report speeding traffic. It looks fairly simple but to give you an idea of what's happening in the background I thought it might be useful to show you the before and after. So here's the before and as you can see it's completely a manual process. Stuff might be recorded electronically but it takes someone to do something seven time to make the process work and send it to the parish or the district. Here's the after What this doesn't tell you is that it's basing whether the request is for the parish or district on three questions. It's also doing a spatial look up to find the parish and returning the parish clerk details using the Modern.Gov API. Because these are already part of our platform this is data that we currently maintain, so there's no additional work to keep this up to date and we've reduced the h

Defining transformation to a wider audience

For the past month I've been putting together a paper on the next steps of digital transformation, for the organisation I work for. I'm proposing we look at two capabilities and two business areas, and if approved I'll be writing more about it. It's been a great exercise in gathering my thoughts and helping me to define digital transformation to a wider audience and how it fits into the bigger picture of service improvement. Here's some of the stuff I've learnt or had affirmed: Transformation, digital or not, starts with understanding the needs of the user through research. This should be obvious, but in local government too often I've seen "build it and they will come" approach applied. It's unlikely a commercial operation would launch a new product without first researching the market, so why would a digital service be any difference? A couple of years ago I wrote how the phrase "digital transformation" was hindering digit